#56: Emulate our young leaders

CC license image by Flickr user quinn norton
CC licensed image by Flickr user quinn norton

I’ve been to my share of graduation ceremonies over the years. Between my own several, some of my family members’ and my students’, I’ve sat through a good number of impassioned, larger-than-life speeches, awards presentations, and let’s not forget the proverbial roll call of handing out diplomas. While many people are not fond of the formalities and perhaps somewhat quixotic, floating feel of these ceremonies, I for one, find them as a source of inspiration. The most inspiring of all, being the grade 8 elementary school graduations I’ve attended over the years.

Last week I went to my school’s grade 8 graduation. Many of the students who were graduating were very special to me, as I taught them over the years and built wonderful relationships with them. As a parent and a teacher, I was so proud (and sentimental) to see them successfully transition through this phase of life.

In addition to awarding each student with their elementary school diplomas, the ceremony celebrated the outstanding achievements and contributions of many remarkable students. As I witnessed these 13 year-old students receiving their respective awards, I was humbly inspired by their accomplishments. I was in awe of two twin boys who, are not only incredibly kind, respectful members of their school community and hard working students, but have been playing in their own rock band for years and are so musically gifted that they are already virtuosos, playing a variety of instruments at a level many of us will never attain in our lifetime. They have brought down the house (or school gymnasium), rocking it out in front of the entire school (600+ students) on several occasions, and have also humbly slipped behind the scenes to provide musical accompaniment for the school musical, that rivals what professionals could offer. As their music teacher expressed during her award speech to them, after some time of asking them whether they could play a particular song (to which they would respond by instantly playing it by ear), she would just tell them to play it. Life is so beautiful when you get to witness not just one, but two gifted (and almost identical!) young human beings who have so much talent to bring to this world.

The stage was also graced by students who achieved the top academic rankings, gifted athletes who not only excel in their level of skill but in their leadership and sportsmanship too, and young trailblazers who have stretched the boundaries of artistic expression through visual and/or performing arts. Their level of technical achievement is definitely impressive, but what is most compelling about them and many of their peers who are also equally remarkable, is that they have consistently served as outstanding citizens to their school community and beyond for the entirety of their elementary school career. From leading fundraising campaigns throughout the school, to mentoring younger students and regularly offering to lend a helping hand and a friendly smile to all members of the school community, these young leaders set a fine example for all, each and every day. What is crucial to note however, is that they are not without their faults…BUT they take responsibility for their actions, in all sincerity, even when they make mistakes. In a nutshell, these students veritably demonstrate integrity and respect.

One of my favourite moments of the graduation ceremony is hearing the introduction of the valedictorian. The students vote for their valedictorian and write down why they have nominated that particular person. The teacher introducing the valedictorian often reads out what the students had to say about the given individual. Typically, the following phrases are shared: “…is well-liked by everyone”, “…is friendly to everyone”, “…gets along with everyone”, “…is always lending a helping hand”, “…is a leader”. There are certainly other traits listed as well, but I think the above statements are really telling. These qualities are what others value when choosing someone to represent them. I often say that schools and classrooms are microcosms of our society at large. Within these walls you’ll find diversity in every sense of the word–you’ll find conflict and harmony, chaos and peace, adversity and victory between people of different personalities, abilities and cultural backgrounds. Most importantly, you’ll also find answers to many of our world’s greatest challenges, by simply observing and learning from the actions and traits of many of our inspiring young leaders.

I have been extremely lucky over my years of teaching to have taught a large number of these model students. The graduation ceremony is an effective social tool to reconnect me with them and in general, all the talent and promise that exists in our future generation. However, as cheesy as it sounds, I should emphasize that each and every day as a teacher, I get inspired by my exemplary students…and there are a lot of them (which is great!). Whether they are destined to win awards or not, or whether they are outspoken or quiet leaders, these everyday heroes help me be a better person. 🙂

As adults, I feel that we sometimes let life’s realities get in the way of our hope, motivation and zest for being the best we can be. Children have a great way of reminding us that we can strip away those limiting beliefs and that magnificence is possible. There are so many examples of children and youth of all different backgrounds and ages, from all parts of the world, including children in developing countries, or in struggling circumstances, who demonstrate extraordinary qualities that have the power to influence and move others–and with our global, connected world, this influence is even more powerful and far reaching than ever before (a quick search online will lead you to many inspiring videos: Here’s 10 year old Dalton Sherman. Check out 14 year-old Graeme Taylor on Ellen.) It is absolutely eye-opening, humbling and simply incredible to realize the potential that exists out there! The world is already a better place with so many young leaders paving the way, but if others can learn from and emulate the traits of these hopeful, powerful dreamers of the future generation, I think we’ll be well on our way to making it even better.

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